Sophie has enjoyed walking outside for most of her life. She walks for her mental health as well as to raise money for charities important to her. Sophie recently created Bristol Steppin Sistas with the aim of creating a safe walking environment for women of colour.
How did you get into walking?
I grew up in the country and since the age of 12 I have enjoyed walking in woods, the countryside, and coastal areas with friends or family. In my early 20’s I began to walk alone and ever since I have found myself solo walking in the UK and abroad to places that I have never been before, just to learn more about nature and different cultures. Then when I became familiar with my favourite routes, I started walked with friends, joined the Bristol Ramblers and realised that I had a real passion for walking in nature, because of the way it made me feel.
What do you love about walking?
I love that walking in nature acts as a natural healing aid, or medicine, when I feel stressed or heavy headed. I find that walking keeps me grounded through stressful times and really helps me connect with the natural world.
Has walking played an important part of your lockdown?
Walking has played an important part of my lockdown. I have been working throughout the lockdown and I made the decision to walk home from work as part of my daily routine. Also, I have signed up to some charity walks to give myself the motivation to get outside and walk even more, as well as raise funds for others to receive the support they need.
My walking has increased, in terms of distance and time because it’s something that I needed to do to keep my sanity balanced.
What barriers to walking do women of colour face?
I don’t see many black women or women of colour walking in nature, and I believe it’s due to day-to-day distractions, mental health concerns/social anxiety and the uncertainty of walking into the unknown because it can be overwhelming to take that first step into something new, especially when you are not comfortable in that space.
There has been a reluctance for women of colour to venture into unfamiliar spaces where they feel exposed, judged, stared at and remarked on. This has led to us “staying in our lanes”.
Another barrier is appropriate walk wear and affordability. If women are unable to afford the right walking gear they are less likely to walk, especially in certain climates. We want to encourage walking at all times of the year. We want to be able to help subsidise the cost of walking equipment for women who do not have the means to fully finance equipment themselves, items like walking shoes / boots, poles, appropriate weather gear, maps and also high viz reflective tabards for volunteer walking group leaders.
How did you come to set up Bristol Steppin’ Sistas?
I wanted to meet more and new like-minded people so I searched on Facebook in November 2020 for other local walking groups and came across Black Girls Hike. I joined and posted asking if there was anyone from the Southwest who wanted to walk together.
Then this year I wanted to set up my own grassroots walking group that really focused on enabling walking to be uplifting and enriching to the lives of women of colour of all abilities. Being part of our group offers an opportunity to engage in conversation, create reflection, enjoy nature and appreciate new environments.
We want to encourage women to step across the barriers mentioned above and push their limits, whilst in the safety and company of others who share similar experiences of racism and disadvantage.
What are your aspirations for Bristol Steppin Sistas post-lockdown?
The aim is to help motivate women of colour to visit places they would not have ventured to including rural areas around Bristol and further afield in the southwest, routes that can get women around the city and beyond, routes that stoke interest and wonder.
As we know, the outdoors is great for clearing the mind and enjoying good times and I want to open that up to women of colour.
At the moment I am looking to obtain t-shirts for the women and also find suitable walking routes and activities for all walking abilities. I’m concentrating on using the routes that I am very familiar with, but I am also researching other inner city Bristol routes as the groups consists of all walking abilities.
I believe we can create a sisterhood support group that enjoys the benefits of walking – exercise, fresh air and nature. We’ve got 158 members and counting and we can not wait to really start walking altogether!
How can people join Bristol Steppin Sistas?
There’s loads of ways you can find us including:
Apply to join our Facebook page here – https://www.facebook.com/groups/223891986148385/?ref=share
or Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/brisstepsis230421/
Or get in touch with me on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/pippylongstocking11/
Tell us about your walks for charity.
I have been walking for charities and taking up walking challenges to keep myself motivated during the lockdowns. I usually cover 1 to 15 miles a week and so far I have fundraised for:
- Dorothy House
- Bristol Black Carers
- Domestic Abuse
- Diabetes UK
I’ve also picked up walking challenges monthly with Race at your Pace.
Race at your Pace is a walking challenge for walkers, runners, swimmers or cyclists to sign up to and choose how many miles you will cover during the chosen month. There is a small fee, that guarantees you a t-shirt and medal. It is a self-paced challenge, there’s no fundraising involved. My next challenge will be to sign up to May 2021.
What is your favourite walk in/around Bristol?
My favourite walks are – Dundry Hill, overlooking Chew valley Lake, Stockwood and Whitchurch areas, and Pensford. I like to see beautiful scenery and views from the top of hills. Also, I have noticed that the air is fresher, which I find very therapeutic.
What are your top tips for people new to walking?
Tips for people new to walking would be to take someone with you for company, who is familiar with different areas and levels of walking. Have something light to eat before leaving out and carry light lunch and bottled water. And make sure your phone is charged too in case you get lost!